TAMPA — "It's a dirty game" was Richard McTear Jr.'s motto. He had the phrase tattooed on his forearm, and he repeated it to reporters after his arrest five years ago on charges that he murdered his ex-girlfriend's baby and threw the infant onto the side of the interstate.
On Tuesday, the opening day of his trial, McTear's defense attorney Mike Peacock took those words and pointed them at the jury.
"The question for you is: What is the dirty game that was being referred to, and who is playing it?" he said.
Peacock and Assistant State Attorney Ron Gale agree that on May 5, 2009, a 3-month-old boy named Emanuel Wesley Murray was found dead on the side of Interstate 275 S, his skull fractured. And for the most part, they agree that the state's key witness, McTear's former girlfriend Jasmine Bedwell, knows the answer to the question of who murdered her son and who is telling the truth about the last hours of his short life.
But as Peacock made plain in his opening statement to the jury, he plans to make Bedwell's credibility a major issue in the case. Her strength as a witness is already an open question. The state's first attempt at trying McTear for murder ended in a mistrial last year after Bedwell testified that he had threatened to shoot her son in the face and urinate on him, something she was barred from mentioning in court.
McTear's attorney told jurors that at various times, Bedwell had blamed different men for his death. Though she told sheriff's deputies it was her ex-boyfriend, McTear, 26, who threw the baby onto concrete outside of her apartment, she later told a confidant that it was her uncle who was responsible, Peacock said.
Peacock suggested a possible third actor: Liderrius Moore, the young man he said Bedwell began dating shortly before her son was killed. There was at least an hour during which the infant was in Moore's care and Bedwell was absent, he said.
Moore, who was the first witness to testify, rejected that theory. The last time he saw the baby, Emanuel was awake and alert, he said.
In his opening statement, Gale painted a portrait of Bedwell as a young mother whose jealous ex-boyfriend set out to destroy her life.
In the early hours of May 5, McTear was waiting in Bedwell's apartment for her to come home from an evening with Moore, Gale said. The moment she locked the front door behind her, he pounced, the prosecutor said, hitting and biting her.
Gale said McTear opened a can of soda and poured it onto the baby's face. He picked up the car seat holding Emanuel and flung it across the room. Bedwell grabbed Emanuel and ran. But as she started to leave, the baby fell out of her arms and landed on the sidewalk, Gale said. Bedwell kept running, reaching a neighbor's apartment, where she called 911.
A Hillsborough crime scene investigator testified Tuesday that she found possible blood stains on one of the apartment's walls and a blue pacifier lying in the grass outside. If convicted, McTear could be sentenced to death.
Found on the side of the interstate, Emanuel was pronounced dead at the scene, but it remains unclear exactly what killed him or how he got there. Gale said investigators linked blood stains on McTear's shorts to the baby, and Emanuel's blood was found in a car that McTear was known to drive.
"The causes of death are multiple and severe skull fractures," he said. "This could not have happened just by the baby being dropped, unless it was from some great height."
The infant was covered in "road rash," when a passer-by found him, Gale said. His skin was still bleeding, suggesting that he was alive when he was left on the side of I-275 near Fowler Avenue.
"A heart was still beating," Gale said.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.